Retired soldier doesn’t toe GOP line on Keystone XL, Medicaid

Deena Winter
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Jan 03, 2014 10:01 AM
Retired soldier doesn’t toe GOP line on Keystone XL, Medicaid

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — Exactly one day after he retired from a 36-year military career, Col. Tom Brewer announced plans to engage in a new battle. He wants to take on a fellow Republican and incumbent congressman.

Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

COLONEL: Col. Tom Brewer says U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith seems to do just enough to get along, shows no leadership and does Speaker of the House John Boehner’s bidding.

Brewer, who’s been called Nebraska’s most battle-tested soldier, may have followed military orders for nearly four decades, but if elected to the U.S. House, he says he won’t always toe the GOP line.

He supports expanding Medicaid and questions the wisdom of building the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline across Nebraska, for example, and bluntly says he’s disappointed not only with the man he’s trying to unseat, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, but all three of Nebraska’s congressmen.

“I just get so discouraged watching the evening news and seeing how polarized everything has become,” Brewer said Thursday in an interview.

Brewer said he’s tired of seeing gridlock in Congress and watching Smith doing just enough to get by and not showing leadership.

He said he knows it’ll be an uphill battle, but Brewer is no stranger to a fight. He served six tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was shot six times during a 2003 gun battle in Iraq, but refused to leave his men on the battlefield.

Brewer began his military career with the Nebraska National Guard and retired from the U.S. Army Reserve.

He ultimately was sidelined for good after the right side of his body was pierced by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade in a battle two years ago near Kabul. Shrapnel shredded tendons in his foot and he lost vision in his right eye for a time. The foot injury ended his hope of running his 40th marathon.

After two years of surgeries and therapy — getting his foot fused together and thumb reattached to his hand — Brewer could have taken his two Purple Hearts and limped into retirement. But he said couldn’t do it.

While traveling the state, attending retirement parties and speaking to wounded warriors and veterans, he said he noticed a common refrain: People didn’t think they were being well represented in Washington, D.C. In some areas, Nebraskans didn’t even know Smith was their congressman, he said.

Never mind the fact that incumbent members of Congress enjoy about a 90 percent re-election rate, and Smith has a nearly million-dollar campaign war chest. Brewer said he’s ready for one more fight.

“We’re gonna scrap and fight as best we can,” he said. “I felt like I could give more and do more, so I took it on. I guess I kind of enjoy a good fight and I may have one now.”

Brewer said people shouldn’t accept that if someone gets elected, they’re a politician for life.

Smith, he said, “really has no life skills except to be a politician.” Smith toes the party line and does whatever House Speaker John Boehner tells him to do, Brewer said. Smith is lackadaisical, uninspiring and shows no leadership, he said.

“He’s just is someone who was fortunate enough to get elected after Tom Osborne left and once you have the position it is almost impossible (to get beaten),” Brewer said. “That’s his DNA. My DNA is I’m a fighter. I enjoy a good fight.”

Smith declined to engage. Instead, he released a statement to the media.

“I am honored to represent Nebraska’s third district,” the incumbent said. “Strengthening our country with conservative principles has always been my goal. Every day I serve, I think about what our founders had in mind as well as what they put into our Constitution. I appreciate Colonel Brewer’s service to our country. Campaigns come and go, but common sense Constitutional principles endure. I look forward to the coming months’ campaign and electoral process.”

Brewer said the representative of the largest (in terms of land mass) congressional district in the nation should be on the news discussing problems and helping veterans who were locked out of the World War II Memorial during the 2013 government shutdown and “not just live in the shadows and do the minimum to get by.”

“If all you have are the milquetoast, go-along-to-get-along guys, that’s all you’ll have represent you,” he said.

Brewer said he’d listen to feedback from constituents on issues like the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that would cross Nebraska. The issue “might need an honest, fair examination and not a party-line stance,” he said.

Brewer said answers are needed to questions about the tar sands oil the pipeline would carry through Nebraska and the Ogallala Aquifer, a shallow water aquifer that flows under most of Nebraska and stretches across the Great Plains. The pipeline path was rerouted around the Sandhills, but there are several wells that are a direct conduit to the aquifer, he said.

SOLDIER: Col. Tom Brewer may have been a good soldier for 36 years, but says he wouldn't always follow GOP orders if elected to Congress.

SOLDIER: Col. Tom Brewer may have been a good soldier for 36 years, but says he wouldn’t always follow GOP orders if elected to Congress.

“They owe us answers,” he said.

Brewer is from Gordon, just across the border from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, but he hasn’t lived there for more than 20 years. That could become a campaign issue, but he said he had no choice because of his military duty.

“You have to live where you’re assigned,” he said. His wife was in the military, assigned to Lincoln, and he was at Offutt Air Force Base. He spent about half of his last decade in the military living in Murdock, east of Lincoln and in the 1st Congressional District.

While Murdock was his residence, Gordon has been his official home of record for the military, he said.

He notes that three generations of his family hail from Gordon, where his brother is the police chief and he owns two homes. He said he plans to move there soon, now that his retirement is official.

He and his mothers are members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and he remembers the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising and American Indian Movement’s 71-day occupation in South Dakota. His mother was strict about studying Native American history, but he “almost tried to hide” his Native American heritage as a child, out of fear.

“Now I’m pretty proud of it,” he said. “I had ancestors that were buried at Wounded Knee.”

He remembers growing up in poverty and people standing in line to get government commodities once a month.

“We never really thought of ourselves as poor,” compared to those they saw on Pine Ridge, he said. He joined the National Guard at age 18 to escape poverty.

Growing up poor, he said he understands the need for food stamp programs, but says the programs are fraught with waste, fraud and abuse.

Though Brewer said the idea of Obamacare is good — trying to insure uninsured people — but the law should be repealed. There should be a way to expand Medicaid, or some other way to insure people than the “incredibly confusing” Affordable Care Act, he said.

After spending nearly five years fighting the war in Afghanistan, he says the blood and treasure spent there could be wasted because the U.S. is pulling out too early. America should have tapered the withdrawal and not announced the withdrawal date, he said, because it broke the backs of Afghans. He said he expects the Taliban to move in once the U.S. pulls out.

Still, Brewer said a lot was accomplished. The country was in shambles when U.S. forces arrived, with nothing resembling a central government or national police. Since the 2001 invasion, judges have been appointed, elections have been held and Afghans seem proud to show off their “I’ve voted” thumb ink prints.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to get Americans to go to the polls and exercise their right to vote. Harder even still to get them to vote out an incumbent.

“I look at it this way. Adrian (Smith) has always said he wants to be a congressman,” he said. “My goal in life was to lead troops in combat.”

That says a lot about a person, he said.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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